Independence Day was subdued this year. Partly out of confusion and pessimism, partly out of fear - a number of municipalities toned down or cancelled their public celebrations to avoid providing targets for terrorism.
As part of an effort by our seminar center staff to clarify our mission in trying times, I found myself trying to start at the beginning, trying to define my own Zionism as it is on Independence Day 54. Here is my draft:
The defining moment in Jewish history was the revelation at Mt. Sinai. That means that what is distinctive about Jewishness is not just common fate or ethnicity, but a common obligation to a set of commandments
This set of commandments has undergone and continues to undergo a constant process of interpretation and reinterpretation in the light of human experience, in dialogue with the cultural environments in which the Jews have found themselves.
The commandments provide a prescription for the creation of a society characterized by justice and mercy in human relationships.
Jewish survival as a group has value only insofar as it is defined by the commandments and the ongoing attempt to interpret and apply them. Ethnic survival by itself - like personal survival - is not an absolute value.
The world is redeemable: its perfection is possible; the purpose of the commandments is to guide us in the process of perfecting it.
The redempton of the world is a human process, based on our efforts to create the perfect society. There is no timetable, no structure, no magical, apocalyptic short-cut in this wearying and frustrating process. Setbacks (e.g., the Holocaust) and advances (e.g., the establishment of Israel) are not evidence of extra-historical intervention by God, but are the rationally calculable results of human behavior.
Therefore, the return to Zion is not a signpost in the process of redemption. It is simply another chapter in the history of the Jewish people and another opportunity for furthering our efforts to create an ideal society.
It is a noble and worthy aim to rescue Jews suffering wherever they are and to provide a safe haven for them. However, if the Jewish state is to survive, Zionism must be driven by the prophetic vision of an ideal society, not by an apocalyptic vision of irrational historical structures; by vision and not by victimhood.
Covenant Zionism (my term) believes that the survival of the Jewish state is conditional upon our efforts to create an ideal society, one built upon a striving toward the fulfillment of the principles of justice and mercy in the institutions of the state and in everyday life.
Obviously, there is no consensus on how to interpret the accumulated tradition and to apply it to current reality. A number of competing approaches have developed, especially in the modern period. And it does not seem realistic to expect consensus. In areas of state authority (criminal justice, foreign policy), resolution will need to be attained by means of democratic decision making. Such areas should be minimized as much as possible, with the maximum power and autonomy granted to communities, so that multiple interpretations can exist side by side.
To move from the present reality to a society with a utopian vision of itself requires a major educational effort. That is the mission of Makom ba-Galil Seminar Center.